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Mum's the Word!

Photo Courtesy: Peggy Brisbane

JW: Mum's the word. Yes, it's that time of year when we see colorful chrysanthemums in rich fall shades of gold and bronze and purple and maroon--and so many other colors. They often signal the arrival of autumn, and are one of the most popular fall flowers. One place we'll see lots of them is Elm Creek Garden Center and Farwell. Janice Jenkins, along with her husband, Mike, has owned the business since 1987. And I'm here today at Elm Creek Garden Center. Janice, thanks for having me today. This is “From the Ground Up!”

JJ: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

JW: Janice, in central and northern Michigan, are mums considered annual or perennial?

JJ: Well, that is a great question. We get asked that a lot in the fall season. And actually there is an annual and there is a perennial. So the perennial ones, which most of us refer to as a hardy mum or garden mum, those are more the perennial or hardy ones for our zone, the annual ones that we refer to as more of a florist mum. We might be familiar with those as a football mom, or one that we see that have a really huge large blossom to them.

JW: How can we tell if we're purchasing annual or perennial mums?

JJ: That is a great question as well. And it is hard! Normally the garden centers, and places that sell plant material, they usually have the hardy mums or the garden mums. Again, if you buy them from a florist or maybe from a store that isn't a garden center, they typically have more of the annual mums.

JW: So those are for putting on our porch and looking pretty just for the season.

JJ: They both can be-- they both are good for that. The perennial one is available so that you can plant it after you enjoy it on the patio. But the annual one, yes, that would just be a one-time deal.

JW: If we have annual mums, and we have them on our porch in groups in pretty colors, and they look great, how should we take care of those?

JJ: The annual ones? Well, basically, you just kind of enjoy them for the season, and you say, “Thank you,” and you let them go. The perennial one though, the hardy or garden mum, those are ones that you can enjoy on your patio, enjoy the colors, and then plant it, and then you can enjoy it again.

JW: That would be great. Can you take us step by step on what we should do with those mums?

JJ: Absolutely. So your hardy mums are the garden mums that you would purchase in the fall, they usually have like a three to four week window of bloom time. A couple key points that I always tell my customer is-- when you take it home, potted in a bigger pot with some extra soil. That helps the roots because usually they're rootbound. And those containers, water them regularly. So at least couple-- two, three times a week. Get it in a nice sunny area, maybe a four to five hours sunlight area, keep fertilizing it, every plant needs fertilizer--so make sure that you keep fertilizing it even on your patio. And then you can enjoy those blossoms for that whole three to four weeks.

JW: And we can plant them in the ground after that?

JJ: Absolutely. So the hardy mum, you can plant in the ground. A couple key points there is making sure you get the right location. If you have a poor location, your mum won't come back. But if you plant it up by a building along with some other perennials, maybe in a zone by the house that's kind of protected from the winter winds, making sure your soil is prepped and ready with some amendments. And again, keeping it watered, they usually will come back pretty easily.

JW: So we overwinter those, and then come springtime, they come back. Then what do we do?

JJ: Okay, yeah, that's always a question too. So next year, you'll see some life to that mum, usually the first part of May, you'll start to see some greenery starting to come up. I usually recommend at that point, putting a fertilizer down a nice, balanced perennial granular fertilizer in your perennial bed will help those perennials. Mulch is great. And actually putting the mulch down in the fall is better than putting the mulch down in the spring because that will protect those roots during the winter season. So we've got it planted, it's coming up, we're seeing some life, we put the fertilizer on it, we keep watering it, but one of the key points for a hardy mum is making sure that it stays nice and full and bushy, and there is a little bit of a technique to that. So we want to pinch it three times. Usually it's May, June and July, you want to do a third of the growth, pinch it back. And then each of those times that you would pinch it back, the plant will re-flush and fill in better for you. Do that three times-- by July 4--you should be done pinching, and then letting the plant continue to grow after that. If you don't, they'll get really tall and spindly and kind of gangly looking, But continue fertilizing and continuing watering. One of the biggest things about mums either on your patio in the fall, or in your garden, if it dries out--once it's dried and it's crunchy, it's not going to come back. So yeah, it's really important. Another thing that I always remind our customers is make sure you pinch off the deadheads that so that they continuously keep blooming well for you-- If you don't do that, it actually is very tiring to the plant because it'll expire faster if you don't keep the dead heads off. And the same thing in your flower garden. As you see them finish, go ahead and pinch those out. And then let the rest continue to flush.

JW: Some basic but really necessary steps to keep your mums nice! So, get them now. Enjoy them, plant them in the fall, take care of them, they'll come back for you next spring!

JJ: Absolutely! And they're so beautiful when they're in the garden. But the key point I always remind everybody is just make sure you find the right location, right soil, good fertilizer and lots of water.

JW: Janice--mums come in so many beautiful colors. Do you have a favorite?

JJ: I do. I love any shades of purple. So the lavender colors, the lilac colors. I don't mind which size heads that they are, but I just love the purples.

JW: I enjoy the language of flowers. And it turns out the chrysanthemum symbolizes friendship and happiness and joy and longevity. So thank you for all of the mums that you have here at Elm Creek Garden Center and for bringing friendship and happiness and joy and longevity to us!

JJ: Thank you and enjoy fall everyone.

JW: Janice Jenkins from Elk Creek Garden Center in Farwell, thanks so much for joining me today. I’m Judy Wagley, this is “From the Ground Up!”

Judy Wagley is WCMU's midday host, and is the producer of <b><a href="">The Children's Bookshelf</a></b> and <b><a href="">From the Ground Up!</a></b> She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.<br/>